“If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will burn.” (Exodus 22:23-24)
This last week has been quite historic in our country not just for the protests, the uprising, the burning and looting of properties and business but in particular for the invasion and subsequent plundering of warehouses where Covid-19 Palliatives were stored. While we must condemn stealing in very strong terms, the fact is that there is a lot of hunger in our land occasioned by a lack of sensitivity to the plights of the poor, the youths, the widows, orphans and the needy. And this is precisely the message contained in today’s readings.
Last Sunday, we saw how Jesus silenced the disciples of the Pharisees who came in the company of the Herodians to test Jesus and catch him in his words. The Sadducees also came to try their luck and Jesus showed them how wrong they were in their understanding of the resurrection. It was at this point that a lawyer approached Jesus to ask him which was the greatest of all the commandments of God. In other words, the lawyer wanted to find out what is the basic requirement of God for our lives.
1. The Great Commandment is Love Your Neighbour.
In response to the lawyer’s question, Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). Notice that while the lawyer asked for the one great commandment, Jesus seems to have provided two. So one may wonder, which of these two is the greatest and most important commandment?
St. John beautifully answers this question when he said: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20). In other words, to love God is to love our neighbours and it is only in loving our neighbours that we love God. If we say we know God, we should be able to see God in our neighbours. By the way “who is our neighbour?”
2. Your Neighbour is anyone who is Suffering.
From the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, Jesus makes it very clear that “neighbour” is not the people who live close to us, neither is it those who speak our language nor attend the same Church with us. In fact, “neighbour” here is not even someone you have feelings for, it is not someone you are attracted to. This is not the kind of love Jesus is talking about.
By “neighbour” Jesus is referring those who are suffering; those who have no food, no water, no clothes, no place to lay their head; those who are sick, poor, oppressed, brutalized or directly affected by the injustices and grave inequalities in our land. These are the people that Jesus is talking about when He says we should love our neighbours as ourselves. To love our neighbours as ourselves is to imagine that we are the ones suffering; it is putting ourselves in their shoes so that we are able to help them just as we would wish to be helped. Jesus says: “Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:30-31).
The rich man never imagined himself in the shoes of Lazarus. He saw Lazarus every day but he pretended that Lazarus did not exist. The sad part is that the rich man had more than enough to waste; he was accustomed to throwing parties every day in his house but remained blind to Lazarus. There are many Christians today who secretly wish that all the poor people in our society can be bundled up and thrown away like debris; Christians who have more than enough to waste but are blind to the plight of the others. We live in a country of very sharp contrasts; we are the poverty capital of the world but we have amongst us the top hundred richest people in the world.
3. Failure to Love Your Neighbour is Hatred towards God
Having seen that our neighbours are those whose condition in life is worse than ours, we must bear in mind that our failure to show concern or to alleviate their pains incurs the wrath of God. As Jesus teaches us, on the day of judgement, God will say: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…. Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” (Matthew 25:41-45).
On the day of judgement, we shall not only be punished for the sins we have committed, but we shall also be punished for our refusal to help the poor and suffering. This is where our first reading today comes in. God warns us in severe terms of the gravity of being unjust and oppressive to those who are disadvantaged, those who have no one to care for them. “If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:23-24)
The book of Proverbs further drives home the point when it says: “He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be heard.” (Proverbs 21:13). Meanwhile, the Psalmist declares: “Blessed is he who considers the poor! The Lord delivers him in the day of trouble; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; thou dost not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness thou healest all his infirmities.” (Psalm 41:1-3)
Conclusion: Who have You Helped?
We dare not claim that we love God if we do not love our neighbours and by neighbours, we mean those who are going through hell. We may assume we have problems but if we open our eyes, we would discover there are millions dying around us. As long as there are people suffering, (people who can afford to be paid just N500 to go and vandalize and burn properties), our peace and security remain a mirage. Wastefulness is a terrible sin. Once you have gotten what you need to survive, anything else does not belong to you but to someone who is struggling to survive.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to love you by loving my neighbours. Amen.
Bible Study: Exodus 22:21-27, Psalm 18, 1st Thessalonians 1:5-10 and Matthew 22:34-40).